By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 1 July 2009 – After participating in the Second Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction – held in Geneva in mid-June – UNICEF Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist Antony Spalton and Rhee, a 16-year-old boy from the Philippines, spoke with UNICEF Radio’s Amy Costello about the role of children in protecting their communities from natural disasters.
The issue is a critical one given that some 175 million children are likely to be affected by climate-related disasters each year, according to Save the Children.
It’s often not the severity of disasters but the preparedness of communities that determines the extent of their impact, Mr. Spalton noted.
“An earthquake, for instance in the US, is unlikely to have a major effect unless it’s a very strong earthquake,” he said. “The same level of earthquake … in Indonesia or the Philippines would have a major impact. And that’s not because of the hazard; that’s because people are more vulnerable.
“The principles of reducing vulnerability to hazards, to storms, to droughts, to earthquakes, to hurricanes, is universal,” Mr. Spalton continued. He added, however, that “how we work with communities to make them safer and more resilient … has to be adapted to the local cultural and socio-economic context.”
The right to feel safe
In the context of his home community in the Philippines, Rhee was active in a successful campaign to get his school moved to a new site when he and his classmates discovered it had been built in an area at high risk for landslides.
Rhee said the students were “very afraid” when they realized the potential dangers, which came to light during a disaster risk-mapping exercise.
Community members were split on the question of whether to relocate the school, but the children themselves “really wanted to relocate, and we wanted to be in a safer place,” said Rhee.
“Children have a different, and certainly a very valid, perception of their own safety,” said Mr. Spalton, “and obviously if a child is at school and doesn’t feel safe, then that’s going to have an impact on their happiness – but also on their performance at school.”
Children reducing risk
Rhee believes there is a growing awareness among children in his country, and globally, about the dangerous effects of climate change and the need to reduce those risks.
“In our classrooms we talk about … climate change, how to deal with it and what are we doing now,” he said. “Students and schools in other countries in Asia, Europe and Africa [are also] finding ways to reduce risk in their communities and their schools.”
Referring to the Geneva meeting on disaster risk reduction, Mr. Spalton supported a recommendation “that children need to be at the table … not just at the community level but at the national level with their governments,” to engage in the process of reducing risk.
About this Podcast
Listen to this UNICEF Radio podcast discussion on the role of children and education in disaster risk reduction, featuring these guests: Antony Spalton,UNICEF Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist, and Rhee, 16, from the Philippines.